Africa 2013

Phase seven - The Plateau

Thursday October 3rd - Khartoum, Sudan to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

My alarm went off just after 5. To try and avoid some of the fierce heat, and minimise the cooling problems associated with the aircraft's engine, I wanted to be in the air by 7. The flight plan had been filed the day before, so the only task for the morning was to get through immigration and prepare the aircraft. Halla's husband Osama drove us to the airport, arriving at 6, where Mohamed and his colleague were waiting to escort us through the terminal. This all went surprisingly smoothly and before too long we were on our bus being transferred to th aircraft. Some careful re-packing was required to fit in all the baggage and three people, but we managed it within the weight and balance limits of the aircraft. At two minutes past 7, we started up and headed to the runway; a brief wait while an airport car carried out a run to clear the birds, and we were off.

Despite the early hour it was still over 30 degrees. A very low power, shallow climb was required to keep engine temperatures under control. It was odd to think that, even twenty minutes into the flight, we were barely reaching the altitude of the airport at our destination of Addis Ababa. Eventually we reached our cruising altitude of 11,500ft and settled in for the five hour flight. We flew for a couple of hundred miles over surprisingly green country; as far as the eye could see was cultivated, with an effective network of irrigation supporting it.

Passing the Ethiopian border, the land began to rise. Mountains lay up ahead in places, with peaks that exceeded our maximum cruising altitude, so it was fairly important to stay on track. The weather cooperated, with scattered clouds meaning that we were in sight of the terrain at all time. The mountains made communication difficult, and it was not until we were within 40 miles of Addis Ababa that we were able to make contact with ATC. I was instantly put on my guard when the controller informed me on first contact to descend to 8,500ft. Given that the ground below us was at 8,600ft, and a ridge was up ahead that topped out above 10,000ft, I informed him that this was not going to be happening, explaining why; he acknowledged this, and told me to descend to an equally fatal 9,500ft instead. I resolved to ignore him.

The approach over the city was beautiful, with mountains all around. The airport stood at an elevation of 7,600ft, 800ft higher than I had ever landed before. The only real difference is a much higher ground speed at touchdown due to the thinner air, and the enormous runways at Addis take this into account. ATC continued to be entirely unhelpful, firing off instructions that bore no resemblence to international practice and were evidently only intelligible to local pilots who knew the unofficial local procedures. We landed just ahead of a light twin turboprop belonging to an operator based at the airport, and after parking and shutting down the South African pilots came over to say hello.

They were welcoming, and explained everything we'd need to know about getting through the airport. Their offer to give us a lift in their van was unfortunately refused by the local Ethiopian staff. We could not have a ride in their empty bus to the terminal, because local rules said only the official handling company was allowed to do that; and charge exorbitant amounts for it, naturally. We had to wait another twenty minutes before the crew bus from Ethiopian Airlines handling arrived and drove us to the terminal. It didn't take long to make it through immigration and into the terminal where the girls located a welcome desk from the conference they were attending. I was left with the bags to head to the hotel for the evening; pilots were not invited to the conference or the reception at the British ambassadors residence that night.

Friday October 4th - Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

When I woke it was raining steadily, and continued to do so for much of the day. That evening after the conference was finished Amie, Shruti and I went out to a traditional (but very touristy) Ethiopian restaurant with a few others from the conference. Ethiopian wine and champagne turned out to be surprisingly good, and the food was not at all bad, although rather spicy! Live music was being played on stage, with traditional dancing. During the meal, the band switched to playing some Chinese songs, much to the delight of the Chinese tour group; a couple of their more outgoing members got up and took the microphone to sing along.

Saturday October 5th - Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Once again, it rained much of the day. To add insult to injury, the power and internet went out for much of the day as well! Thankfully, enough offline work and reading material was available to make the rather dull day bearable.

Sunday October 6th - Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

After a slow morning of work, I set out to join Sophia in visiting a couple of the city's museums. My journey got off to a slow start when I found that none of the ATMs near the hotel would give me any money. A Canadian intern, staying in Addis Ababa for a year, was also trying to get hold of some cash; she told me that this problem was fairly common and that she spent much of her time walking the city trying to find a machine that actually worked. I solved the problem by having the taxi driver take me to the Hilton on the way, where two of the five cash machines were at least functional. From there it was just a couple of minutes drive to the Ethiopian National Museum, where Sophia arrived a few minutes after I did. She had walked from her hotel, and her choice of flip-flops as footwear, combined with the wet weather, meant that the back of her trousers were entirely covered in mud flicked up by the shoes!

The museum was small, set out over three floors. Entry was very reasonable at about $1 per person. The ground floor contained historical artifacts (the usual pottery and jewelery) and, more interestingly, an exhibition of ancient human skeletons charting the course from apes to modern man. Taking pride of place was the famous "Lucy" skeleton, but there were plenty of other equally complete sets of bones from "Homo" specimens both newer and older. It was incredible how much information the scientists could determine from even the tiniest fractions of bone.

The second floor was a collection of Ethiopian artwork, of very varying quality, and on the third could be found a further variety of ancient Ethiopian artifacts. These included farming tools, furniture, and the like; but unfortunately nothing was labelled, limiting the interest that could be derived from the displays. The third floor also housed the gift shop, which Sophia was surprised to discover contained nothing in the way of "Lucy" related items!

From the National Museum, we walked up the hill to Addis Ababa University. We had been informed that we could see a cultural museum here. We wandered through the grounds in search of the right building; the gardens had evidently once been attractive and well manicured but were now in a state of neglect. Finding the correct building, we paid our entry fees (15 times more than the national museum) and made our way up the stairs to the top floor. Given that closing time was not far off, we asked what we should prioritise, and were informed that Haile Selassi's bedroom was the main attraction. We dutifully traipsed through to look; for an Emperor, his decorations had been surprisingly low quality. The fittings, and indeed building (he had donated it to the University having used to live there) were finished to the usual low standard of workmanship that we'd seen through the entire continent.

The rest of the museum was much better, including a large feature about the different tribes of Ethiopia, where they lived, and their customs and practices. A section of artwork was, like that in the National Museum, uninspiring; the things that really did stand out were the beautiful and elaborate crosses produced by Ethiopian artisans.

Museums finished with, we walked for 45 minutes to the Hilton, where the conference had been held. They had an excellent pizza restaurant which we decided to eat at, being a little starved of Western cuisine. Shruti, who had now recovered from the illness that had kept her confined to her room, turned up to eat with us, accompanied by a local doctor who had taken quite a shine to her and was now doing his best to monopolise her for the remainder of her stay! Dinner finished with, we managed to escape from the keen doctor and head back to our hotel.

Monday October 7th - Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

For our last day in Ethiopia, Sophia and Shruti went off on a couple of hospital visits. That evening, a medical colleague of theirs took us to another hotel in the city, which had a Jazz bar attached. Being a Monday it was fairly empty, so we could sit right at the front and enjoy excellent food and drink while watching the band. The music was fantastic; we were sorry we hadn't tried this earlier! When the set finally finished, Sophia and Shruti got talking to a couple of the musicians; it wasn't long before Sophia was planning their European tour for them.

Tuesday October 8th - Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to Nairobi, Kenya

We left the hotel at 0800 and took the shuttle to the airport. Ethopian Airlines, our handling agent, had been failing to answer their phone so we simply turned up at departures and attempted to track them down. It took a good half hour before the right person turned up, and this unfortunately set the tone for our passage through the airport; they were inefficient, unhelpful, and downright rude. Without a doubt the worst handling we'd had, and given the terrible performance of Skywatch in Nigeria, this took quite some doing!

Continuing the theme of African aviation companies refusing to use their own country's currency, Ethiopian were adamant that they would only accept payment in US dollars, cash. We argued this for quite some time, pointing out that if we wanted to buy a ticket on their airline we could do so right there with a credit card or local currency. Eventually a compromise was reached, and they suddenly agreed to accept either card or local cash for the handling fee; yet another example of people being needlessly obstructive when the simple solution was in fact possible all along. The same occurred for the airport fees, which had to be in dollars; the airport bank refused to change any other currency into dollars unless we had a boarding pass. Our status as a private flight was too confusing for them, and they refused to do anything. Returning to the same back 15 minutes later, suddenly we could change money with no problem. No wonder it's impossible to get anything done in these places!

Working our way through the airport, once the currency issue was sorted out, was similarly tedious. It took the lady from the airport authority a good half hour simply to write out a 5 line receipt by hand. Thankfully the fuelers, once we reached the aircraft, were quick and efficient; a welcome relief from the rest of the airport! Finally, with much relief, we were on our way. With almost full fuel, three people, and baggage, the aircraft was loaded up to its maximum takeoff weight; and the thin air at 8,600ft greatly decreased performance! Nonetheless, taking full advantage of the huge runway we slowly climbed away and headed south.

One advantage of the delay in the airport was that the weather had improved, and the sky was now full of scattered cumulous cloud rather than the overcast that had been present earlier. Given that we'd be flying south at levels well below the tops of the highest mountains, being able to see was a huge bonus. Thankfully this time ATC said very little to us, limiting their chances to foul things up, and before too long we were out of VHF contact with them and well on our way. The route took us down a valley leading away from Abbis, with mountain ridges either side and the occasional huge lake; apparently Ethiopia is known as the water tower of Africa for its high setting and huge water supplies.

We continued to be out of radio contact for the next four hours, which was lovely. Peace and quiet in which to do our own thing! We carried on along the flight planned route and the ground slowly dropped away below us, with the mountain peaks slowly turning into hills. Signs of human habitation were few and far between; the south of Ethiopia and north of Kenya were almost devoid of observable occupation. Occasionally we'd slog through cloud for 20 minutes or so, but on the whole the weather was good; certainly much better than the constant, thick cloud around the west coast!

As we neared Nairobi, the countryside changed dramatically. Flying over the hills well to the north, it was almost like we'd suddenly appeared back over the English countryside. Scattered farms littered the green landscape, with hedgerows dividing the mechanically tilled fields; we'd not seen anywhere that looked like it was cultivated mechanically since we'd been in Europe. The countryside looked cool and inviting, nothing like the Africa we had seen so far, and it was easy to see why it had been so attractive to English settlers. The infrastructure here looked far superior to most countries we'd seen so far, with well constructed highways, and even railways; the driving however looked like it was still at a rather scary and dangerous "African" level.

We had by now contacted Nairobi Centre, and they turned us over to the tower at Nairobi Wilson, a GA airport in close proximity to the main Jomo Kenyatta International. I have never heard such a busy airport; it was almost impossible to get a word in on frequency, and a mixture of light aircraft (predominantly Cessna Caravans) were being lined up 4 or 5 deep on final approach. Once tower heard that we were not familiar with the locally used reporting points (not marked on our charts, of course!) we were turfed straight back to approach for them to deal with us.

It turned out that the way to deal with clueless newcomers was to vector them onto the ILS approach into Jomo Kenyatta International. Halfway down, we were instructed to break off to the left and enter a right downwind for runway 07 at Wilson. Changing back over to tower, they were able to deal with us this time, and we were placed number four for landing behind a Cessna Caravan. Moments later we had touched down, and were scrambling to clear the runway ahead of the non-stop stream of traffic coming in behind.

As we taxied in, we caught a glimpse of 5 people jumping up and down and waving wildly from the fence. Our families had arrived! Reunion was slightly delayed by the need to taxi to customs and immigration, which was made slower still by the fact that the ground controller seemed to be in training and not sure what she was doing; trying to instruct a visiting, unfamiliar aircraft seemed to be all too much for her. Paperwork completed we taxied back to the Aero Club of East Africa where we'd be spending the next week, and met our families again for the first time in more than two months!

That evening we dined in the Aero Club restaurant; given the amount of time we'd be spending there we were pleased to find out that there was a large menu of excellent dishes!

Wednesday October 9th - Nairobi, Kenya

On Wednesday I set out to organise the maintenance that needed to be carried out on the aircraft. The owner had instructed us to visit Phoenix Aviation, where they would be ready to receive us and carry out the necessary checks. On my first visit our contact was not there; returning as instructed a couple of hours later, I found that he was in meetings and ended up having to wait more than an hour. When I eventually got to see him, he could not have been more pleasant and welcoming. The request to take in the aircraft and carry out the work had apparently only been made the day before, so they were not exactly prepared for us; and as it turned out, their mechanic did not have the required European licence to perform the inspections. Of course, it took another visit that afternoon to the engineer before I found this out, wiping out the rest of the day; the others had all gone sightseeing!

Thursday October 10th - Nairobi, Kenya

Thursday was a quiet day. After a morning conference with the chief engineer at Phoenix, it was decided that the best course of action would be to fly an engineer out to Nairobi from the maintenance organisation in Holland to take care of the required inspection and try and fix the electrical problems once and for all. The aircraft owner was extremely quick to organise this, and managed to find some reasonably priced last minute flights. The engineer, then, would arrive in Nairobi late on Saturday night.

That evening the party met up at the Intercontinental hotel, where my parents were staying, to spend an afternoon by the pool. The hotel boasted the "largest screen in Kenya", which turned out to be mounted on one end of the building and primarily used for showing football matches. After enjoying cocktails on the terrace (my "Crocodile in the Sky" was a new drink to me, but quite passable) we had dinner in the main hotel restaurant; very disappointing! The Aero Club turned out to be far superior in terms of cuisine.

Friday October 11th - Nairobi, Kenya

Friday was a day of catching up. Sophia once again spent time at the main hospital in Nairobi, while much of the rest of the Webster family were put to work bringing the project's accounts up to date! They took to this thankless task willingly and with good humour.

In the afternoon, my parents and I decided to go out for some sightseeing. Destination of choice was the nearby giraffe sanctuary. We had, however, reckoned without the infamous Nairobi traffic. After an hour and a half in the taxi, having made no more than a couple of miles progress towards our goal, we gave up and returned to the Aero Club; the return journey, where traffic flowed freely, took no more than 7 or 8 minutes. After a catch-up with the Websters, and collection of my luggage, we made for the Intercontinental where I'd be spending the next few nights. It would be good to have a few days away from airports and airplanes! The hotel's second restaurant, and Indian, turned out to be one of the best we'd ever sampled. Thoroughly recommended on any stop in Nairobi!

Saturday October 12th - Nairobi, Kenya

Apparently, weekend traffic in Nairobi is not as bad as it is during the week. Putting this to the test, we set out from the hotel reasonably early to visit Nairobi National Park, over which we had flown when arriving at Wilson. The traffic was indeed much better; we averaged more of a bicycle pace than a walking one, and got to the park in reasonable time. We parked near the gate for the driver/safari guide to reconfigure the van for safari; the entire roof raised up so that one could stand up and look out freely at the animals.

Entering the park, it was like the nearby city of Nairobi had faded away. We drove through dense forest for a few kilometres before breaking out onto the plains. In one direction the tall buildings of Nairobi were visible in the background; in the other, one could quite easily imagine that you were in the middle of the Serengheti. It was only minutes before we came across our first animals; a small herd of antelope type animals named Eland. The drive continued in this fashion and before the afternoon was out we had seen a multitude of various types of antelope and gazelle, zebra, ostriches, giraffes, rhinos, a hippo, baboons, and even two lions! Quite amazing, just a handful of miles from the bustling capital city.

Sunday October 13th - Nairobi, Kenya

I took a taxi to the Aero Club arriving at around 0900, and bumped straight into our engineer Rick. We first walked over to Phoenix to find out exactly where they wanted us to bring the aircraft; being a Sunday not many people were around, but Rick had spoken to one of the facility's managers beforehand and arranged for us to work there on the weekend. We were directed to take the aircraft to the closer hangar, and once we arrived back with the airplane the standby engineers descended upon us keen to help out and learn about the unusual diesel engine. On a normal day, they told us, they'd simply have to hang around doing nothing so the chance to help out on the diesel was apparently a welcome change!

With Rick, myself, and some help from the resident engineers the aircraft inspection was completed in record time. If the stores had been open to pick up the required replacement brake pad and lightbulbs, we'd have been entirely finished in less than a day. The work was very thorough; 30+ inspection panels all across the aircraft were opened up; glow-plugs, fuel injectors, and filters throughout the engine were replaced, the cylinder compressions were checked, and the oil changed along with a multitude of other tasks. With the work almost complete, the aircraft was put to bed for the night and Rick and I retired to the Intercon for another excellent curry.

Monday October 14th - Nairobi, Kenya

I made it out to the airport a little later than the day before, and Rick was already hard at work at Phoenix. The lightning pace of the previous day had ground to a halt. Phoenix's chief engineer had turned up, and taken great umbrage at the fact we would dare to work at the facility on a Sunday. The fact that it had been organised with one of the managers of the company seemed to be of no consequence to him, and he'd given Rick a very hard time. The engineers assisting us this time were working at a glacial pace; the intervention of the boss had definitely not helped. When I arrived he came and had a go at me as well, and stalked off without replying when I pointed out that we could hardly be help responsible for any deficiencies in their internal communications. We didn't see him again.

Mid-morning, a large group of middle-aged men wandered along the apron, dressed in high-vis vests. With them was a representative from the airport authority. They were all clutching notebooks, and it became clear that this was a group of hardcore plane-spotters. They were going from aircraft to aircraft, scribbling down the registration numbers, and had even organised to come into the Phoenix hangars to ensure they noted down every aircraft that was undergoing maintenance as well. They were perfectly harmless, but it was odd to see that they were entirely uninterested in the aircraft themselves; they simply wanted to collect registration numbers for their notebooks.

Late that morning we tested the alternator and, as I had guessed, found it to be defective. Instead of the required 28V, it was producing only 23 or so. All the evidence pointed to an alternator that had been provided defective from the manufacturer, and had been slowly deteriorating. In a flurry of activity it was arranged that a new part would be sent out. A few options were investigated, including carrying the part on a Phoenix jet that was visiting Frankfurt that week, but it was eventually decided that the part would be carried out by a friend of the owner who happened to be flying to Nairobi. It would arrive early on Thrusday morning, by which time our engineer would have departed, but thankfully another qualified engineer was located. He was arriving into Nairobi on Wednesday, quite by chance, and staying for some months; perfect! We moved the aircraft out of the Phoenix facility and down the airport to the hangar of the Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) whose engineer would be replacing the part for us.

Tuesday October 15th - Nairobi, Kenya

Rick and I carried out a few last tasks on the aircraft, including removing the old alternator to be returned to the owner. This done, he departed for the airport and his flight home to Holland. That afternoon I caught up on some work, and also arranged with a local flying school to take one of the Cessna 172s for a short trip the following day; the plan was to go with their chief instructor and practice some dirt strip flying south of the city. It would make a welcome change from hanging around on the ground! The families had departed this day; my parents to Cape Town, and Sophia's family to elsewhere in Kenya for a week's safari. It felt quite strange to be just the two of us again.

Wednesday October 16th - Nairobi, Kenya

Sophia, having had enough of hanging around Nairobi, departed on a commercial flight to Mombasa. She was planning to visit some friends who lived north of there on the coast, and also do some medical work in Mombasa itself. Left to my own devices, a flight was exactly what I needed, and just after lunch the chief pilot at Pegasus flight school came to find me; he was ready early, so did I fancy going now? We pre-flighted one of the school's Cessna 172s and taxied to runway 14, the usual departure runway. It was quite a relief to have someone else doing the radio for me; the frequency was as busy as ever and just to make things more difficult the radios and intercom in this aircraft were remarkably distorted and hard to make out.

We flew south at 6,200ft, climbing to 6,500ft to just clear a small ridge before the ground dropped away dramatically into the Great Rift Valley. The floor of the valley was fairly desolate, being even hotter and dryer than the plains where Nairobi sits. One large farm could be seen; my companion told me that it was fairly new, and was not expected to last long. Our destination, Malingi, was a dirt strip sitting next to a large salt lake and serving the salt processing factory and small community that surrounded it.

A low pass cleared the herd of goats off of the runway, and we flew a circuit back around to land. Having a lot of experience with short strips and grass strips, as well as some very strange tarmaced strips in the US, the landings here were not challenging; the strip was fairly long and straight with nice clear approaches. It was good fun to land on dirt though, as a break from the usual. We flew three circuits, my first being a little rusty after some time not flying a 172, before beginning the long slow climb back to Wilson; we had to climb 2,000ft before we even made it back to Wilson's airport elevation.

Coming back into Wilson the traffic was even busier than on previous occasions. I was glad to have a local expert with me to handle the radio and point out the usual visual reporting points. We slotted into the stream of Cessna Caravans and were asked to expedite our approach; the reason for this became very clear as we were pulling off of the runway and looked back to see a Caravan pass just behind us having landed while we were still on the runway!

That evening I hung out in the lounge at the Aero Club, before being invited to join a group of regulars at the bar. There were several pilots from various operators at Wilson, a lady who worked in the flight ops at Phoenix, and the son of one pilot who'd just returned from working on a farm in Ethiopia. The evening passed quickly, with plenty of stories of exploits in Africa, prominent among them being the attack of a Lemur in a hotel in the Comoros Islands. It was well past midnight before we all retired.

Thursday October 17th - Nairobi, Kenya

Our alternator arrived as scheduled, landing at 6:30am, and was delivered to the Aero Club in a taxi. I wasted no time in heading to MAF and locating our engineer, Keith, who'd be returning the aircraft to airworthy status. A close inspection revealed that as well as installing the new alternator we'd do well to re-do the cable repairs that had been carried out in Khartoum. While servicable, they could not exactly be described as examples of best practice. The brackets that the alternator was mounted on also showed evidence of some wear, leading to a little movement that was possible; this could well have contributed to the problems with cables breaking. A call to the engine manufacturers, SMA, confirmed that this issue had indeed been seen on other aircraft.

Before we could complete the installation of the new alternator, Keith was called away for the day. I returned to the Aero Club to book another night's accomodation. Hopefully I would, at long last, be on my way the following day!

Friday October 18th - Nairobi, Kenya to Malindi, Kenya

I met Keith at MAF a little after 0700 to finish the installation of the alternator. A couple of hours later everything on the engine was back together, the cowlings were replaced, and one of the MAF staff had even given the aircraft a thorough wash! Keith and I climbed aboard and started the engine; there was still enough battery for this, at least. Holding my breath, I flicked on the alternator; and with huge relief watched as the ammeter needle instantly pegged itself to full charge, and all electrical warning lights were extinguished! Keith got out, and I taxied over to the far side of the airport to run the engine for some time and build up charge in the battery again. It took a good half hour, but eventually the ammeter returned to normal levels and I parked up at the Aero Club to load all the gear and finalise the flight plan.

At around 3pm, I taxied to customs. I'm not sure why this was required for an internal flight, but they insisted I go there anyway. In the end all I had to do was walk out of the arrivals gate, back in the departures gate, hand a copy of the manifest to a customs agent, and get straight back into the airplane. There seemed to be something of a lull in traffic and after a short wait while yet another Cessna Caravan departed I was on my way to Malindi, to meet up with Sophia. I followed the VFR departure route, which was helpfully marked on our charts this time, and climbed to 9,500ft to clear the hills east of Nairobi. That done, I descended to 1,000ft to head out across the plains, hopeful of spotting animals! I saw, exclusively, a great many cows.

The flight to Malindi was around two hours. I arrived at the airport shortly after a Cessna 172 arriving from the south, and flew final approach with the African coastline just a few miles away off my left wingtip. So far we had visited the northern, western, and eastern coasts of the continent; just the south left to go! The small apron was almost deserted, and within a few minutes of arriving I'd had some help to push the aircraft back onto the grass and was being greeted by Sue, one of Sophia's friends who lived nearby. We arrived back at their house at about the same time as her husband Damian, and a few minutes later Sophia turned up after her day of medical work in Mombasa.

Although originally from Britain, the couple had now lived in Kenya for well over a decade, working in the hotel industry. There was, in fact, quite a community of expatriates in this small tourist town, primaril British and Italian. That evening we visited the local bar, located at one of the hotels along the front, where we were introduced to many of the other expats; an excellent meal was also available! With the tide well out I set out for a walk on the beach, but came across such a huge number of small, fast crabs that I retreated due to a certain concern, no doubt misplaced, about finding them running up my shoes and clawing my legs.

Saturday October 19th - Malindi, Kenya

Given that it was the weekend we elected to remain in Malindi for another day. There would be no point in turning up in Arusha just to spend Sunday waiting around. We had a late morning, and at around 1030 we joined Sue and a few others for a walk down to the beach and out along a large sandbar that was revealed at low tide. The beach was busy but not crowded, largely with Italians from a nearby hotel. A couple of sightseeing boats arrived and disgorged their passengers before anchoring, and their crews taking a break. The views from sandbar were beautiful, the water warm and clear; just as well, as the tide was coming in and our return to the beach involved as much swimming as it did wading.

After a lunch of pasta and salad Sue gave me a lift up to Damian's hotel, accompanied by David and Simon, two Brits in their twenties. David was working on a farm in the north, and his brother, an army captain, had come out to visit for a while. We had been informed that the hotel had sailing catamarans for rent, and were looking forward to an afternoon of sailing and snorkeling. On arrival we found that the catamarans had been a little overhyped, and were in fact bright yellow roto-moulded "funboats". With three people squeezed on their buoyancy was a little questionable, but we set off out to see anyway with David cheerily humming "Yellow Submarine" as we went.

Once two occupants were turfed overboard to snorkel, the boat regained most of its performance, and it was at times possible to even get it surfing down the large swells that were rolling in towards the beach. We took it in turns to swim and sail; I saw absolutely nothing underwater apart from seaweed, but Simon spotted a little shark. It was small enough to cause him to call us over to look, rather than to try and get out of the water, but unfortunately by the time we got there t had vanished. Simon and David set out to the little rocky island (more of a rock, in fact) to inspect it and before too long I was being called over to remove them from the area. The island was covered with large crabs which were apparently "pretty nasty".

That evening we were taken out for dinner, along with 10 or so others, on a dow belonging to another one of the expat social circle. This was usually run as a business taking tourists for night cruises. The dow was surprisingly speedy and we headed up the creek away from the ocean under a brilliant full moon. Dinner of steak and accompaniments was cooked on board, and even Pina Coladas were available! After a few enjoyable hours we motored back upwind to the jetty, and headed home.

Phase Eight - South Central

Click here to access the eighth part of the trip report; Tanzania and Malawi.

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